QUARTERLY BLOG: THE WORLD OF AUDIO, AND THE AUDIO OF THE WORLD

The past few months have been some of our busiest in recent memory, with both of our studios being put to use on almost every day of 2017 so far. Recently we have completed one of our most complex productions, that of the masterful Istanbul: A Tale Of Three Cities, written and read by Bettany Hughes. Bettany’s book, published by Orion, is full of digressive nuggets of detail, and possesses a truly global scope spreading out from the crossroads of the world.

As such, it required intensive research for its pronunciations. In addition to the Arabic, Greek, Latin, and Turkish running through the city’s historical identities, the Vikings’ forays into the city required getting to grips with Swedish and Danish, and at one point we even needed to figure out the pronunciation of the word ‘Xwn’, the demarcation for the Huns in the now-extinct Silk Road language Sogdian. For the record, our best guess - from the speculative scholarship available - is that the ‘X’ in Sogdian is a fricative, so it should be pronounced like the ‘ch’ in loch, and the ‘w’ approximates a long ‘u’ sound. Istanbul allowed us to draw upon our full network of contacts, and we were very grateful in particular for the assistance of Ojay Dağıstan (Turkish), Laura Aitken-Burt (Latin and Greek), Edan Tal (Sephardic Hebrew), Peter Johnstone (Arabic), Charlie Chichester (Italian), in addition to the kind people at countless institutions who were happy to help us with our enquiries.

At the end of last year we completed another hefty historical project, David Olusaga’s Black And British, for Macmillan Digital Audio. A panoramic account of the often-underlooked contribution of black people to British history, it was a timely recording which electrified us through the power of the writing, brought off the page vividly by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. Adapting non-fiction to audio, especially scholarly non-fiction, which is peppered with footnotes and further reading material, poses the question of how to incorporate that material into a continuous spoken narrative. Sometimes you can do this successfully with each individual reference - if they are not too numerous - and they in turn direct the listener’s interest into other texts. In the case of this book, our producer Peter Rinne felt that such an approach would be too intrusive on what was frequently very personal material. As such, we elected to cover the legal side of things with an announcement at the beginning of the book which directed the listener to find all of the references in an accompanying PDF. It’s an editorial decision which appears trivial, but makes a huge difference to the end product for the listener. Kobna rejoined us a couple of weeks later to record The Hanging Tree, the latest installment of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers Of London series, showcasing his breadth of talent by plunging into the smoky, supernatural world of Peter Grant.

Black And British was one of our recent productions which vitalised the audiobook market with some welcome diversity in subject matter and casting. Alongside this, we recorded Orangeboy for Hachette Children’s. Orangeboy is a gripping young adult novel telling the story of Marlon, a sixteen year old boy from Hackney who tries to avoid following the path trod by his older brother, Andre, into gangs, drugs, and violence. The voice was Doc Brown, who was superb at injecting the energy and believability needed to sustain the story. A pair of titles for Nosy Crow continued the trend of children’s fiction which treated its young audience with respect and intelligence. The Many Worlds Of Albie Bright is a tender tale of love and loss intertwined with the science of parallel universes, while Little Bits Of Sky is a child’s eye view of social care homes and the Poll tax riots. The books were read with great thought and sensitivity by Ewan Goddard and Adjoa Andoh respectively.

In the year of the 70th anniversary of HG Wells’ death, we produced The Massacre Of Mankind, a sequel to The War Of The Worlds penned by Stephen Baxter, which was read by Nathalie Buscombe, who utilized her talents to conjure the world of 1920s London and beyond. Daniel Weyman has been lending his skills to Willard Price’s rollicking Adventure books written in the 1950s, and has taken on the first two this year: Amazon Adventure and South Sea Adventure. Continuing his collaboration with producer Tamsin Collison, who worked with him on Michelle Paver’s Thin Air, Daniel has been typically successful at enriching the book with period flavour. South Sea Adventure was a particular challenge for sourcing pronunciations, with Price’s story taking his characters through the islands and cultures of the Pacific. Going back even further in time, Oliver Hembrough (narrating) and Chris Sharp (producing) are continuing their epic trek through Winston Graham’s Poldark series.

As we have two studios, we are able to host simultaneous recordings of books with two readers, where the readers will record their respective sections of the book in different rooms at the same time. We used this approach last year for the Hairy Bikers, and following in their tracks this year for a simultaneous recording were Gillian Anderson and Jennifer Nadel, who recorded their jointly written book We: A Manifesto For Modern Women. Recording two speakers requires careful calibration in engineering (to make sure both readers hit the same level) and in production (so that their delivery and pace are consistent), and it was through the experience behind the glass of Mary Price and Katie Storey that we were able to achieve this.

All in all, the beginning of 2017 has seen us reunite with some familiar names, faces, and series, but also engage with new ideas from the readers, producers and writers we work with. Long may it continue.

Chris Beer

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